Buck v. Smith

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: June 6, 2016
  • Case #: 15-8049
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether Petitioner's circumstances are extraordinary enough to warrant relief under Rule 60(b)(6), based on an ineffective assistance of counsel argument, from denial of his habeas claim when: his counsel called an expert witness to testify during sentencing and the expert stated that Petitioner's race made him more likely to be dangerous in the future, the prosecution alluded to Petitioner's race in closing as support for Petitioner's future dangerousness, and Petitioner was sentenced to death after it was determined that Petitioner had the potential to commit future violent acts.

Petitioner, a black male, was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her friend in Texas in 1995. During sentencing, Petitioner's attorney called Dr. Walter Quijano, the prosecution's expert witness, to the stand to testify about Petitioner's potential future dangerousness, a prerequisite for a death penalty sentence. During his testimony, Dr. Quijano stated that black people are more likely to engage in future violent acts. On cross, the prosecution had Dr. Quijano confirm that a black people are more likely to commit future violent acts and in closing the prosecution alluded to Petitioner's potential for future violence because of his race notwithstanding Petitioner's low probability range for engaging in future violent acts. Petitioner was subsequently sentenced to death. Petitioner made several appeals in state and federal court, ultimately culminating in this federal habeas claim. Petitioner moved for relief for the denial of his habeas claim in federal court under Rule 60(b)(6), alleging ineffective assistance of counsel ("IAC"), which he did not raise on direct appeal in state court or in his first habeas writ. The district court denied Petitioner's motion because they held that Petitioner's circumstances did not rise to the level of "extraordinary" as required by Rule 60(b)(6). On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court and denied Petitioner's request for a Certificate of Appealability, finding that a change in the relevant case law, government acknowledgement that Petitioner's constitutional rights were actually violated, and broken promises to allow for resentencing by the Texas Attorney General (although the court disputed whether an actual promise occurred) were not extraordinary enough to satisfy the requirements of Rule 60(b). Petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Fifth Circuit improperly determined that Petitioner's circumstances were not extraordinary enough, in light of the fact that Petitioner, who has been sentenced to death, had an attorney who called an expert witness that testified that Petitioner was likely to engage in future violent acts because he is black, when future dangerousness was required for a death sentence and the main issue contested at sentencing.

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